Bill Mandara: CEO, Mancini Duffy

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Looking back and forward

It’s a conversation wrapped in nostalgia when Bobby and Andrew welcome Mancini Duffy’s Bill Mandara to the pod.  From remembering childhood aspirations through to the aspirations of the present, the conversation is one focused on being authentic and being willing to try new things.  Bill shares how he and partner Christian Giordano have re-thought their business at Mancini Duffy to transform the firm into a multi-disciplinary practice that lifts up intrapreneurs and embraces new tech and ways of thinking at every opportunity.  As a bonus, this episode also features BTE’s first ever ‘hat day’ as well as – after months of talking AI – our first Skynet reference.

Connect with our hosts on LinkedIn: 

Bobby Bonett

Andrew Lane

Follow Bill Mandara on Linkedin

References and resources:

Mancini Duffy

Careers at Mancini Duffy

TSX Broadway

Bill on Spotify

The Anti-architect Podcast with Christian Giordano

Skynet

Related and referred BTE Episodes:

Innovating and evolving at a large architecture firm with Eran Chen, ODA

Bringing clients into virtual experiences with Keith Fine, S/L/A/M Collaborative 

The future of architecture in 3D spaces with Lisbeth Jimenez, MKDA

Get in touch with us with your questions on emerging technology, innovation and more at [email protected] or drop us a voicemail at the BTE Hotline at 1-917-934-2812.

Discover more shows from SURROUND at surroundpodcasts.com.

This episode of Barriers to Entry was produced by Rob Schulte.

Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

 

This transcript was made in part by an automated service. In some cases there will be errors. 

 

Bill: [00:00:00] I grew up playing video games, right? Everybody understands walking through a scenario on a screen and what that looks like. And it’s a heck of a lot easier to understand what a space is like that than rifling through sets of

Music: next one.

Andrew: to entry, a design innovation podcast on the surround podcast network. This is the show where we obsess over the not too distant future of the architecture design and creative industries and the ideas, tools, technologies, and talent that will take us there. I’m Andrew Lane, co founder at Digby.

And with me as always is Bobby Binet, the chief growth officer at Sandow design group. Welcome Bobby. How are you doing today?

Bobby: I’m well, nice hat, Andrew. We’re both, uh, black hatted up and, uh, master and dynamic headphones on.

Andrew: It’s hat day.

Bobby: It’s hat day? Monday hat

Andrew: We didn’t even know. Yeah. Do they still do that in school? You’ve got kids that used to be a thing in school. Where you would, you would pay like to a charity, you’d pay, like, it was probably a nickel when I was in school. Um, and then you’d get to wear your hat for the day. Is that still a thing they’re doing?

Bobby: they have nickels in Canada? Um, yes, they’re there. They do have a hat day. They’ve got school spirit day dress up like a superhero day and all that fun stuff. So we’re celebrating hat day today. I think that’s where we’re at.

Andrew: Well, I really, I really just wanted to tee up the idea of, of childhood pursuits, actually, Bobby. Um. Um, cause you know, our guest today, um, is someone who, uh, has a few stories to tell, we hope around that space. But like, from your standpoint, did you always think you were going to be a podcaster when you were growing up?

Or did you have, you know, did you have other aspirations?

Bobby: Yeah, I think my first I think when I was one year old, I asked for a shore microphone. Um, no, actually I was, I was a realist when I was younger. Um, obviously like I played little league baseball and all that stuff. But by the time I was like 10 years old, I remember watching, uh, I think he was probably on the Yankees at this point where he was on the Tigers, Cecil Fielder playing first base.

And I had said to my mom, I think I could make the major leagues as a pinch runner. What do you think? So even at that point, I knew like I could, I did not have the power. I was a pretty good fielder, but I had the speed to potentially relieve Cecil Fielder in late innings on second base to get, to get to home on a base hit.

So that was my, my dream as a

Andrew: Big Sass was not taking a lot of extra bases back in the day.

Bobby: No, no, he was, he was station to station.

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s a much better aspiration than I had. My, my cousin owned one of the local gas stations and I always told my mom that if I could do anything, I would work at that gas station. And I think she wanted to encourage me, uh, to spread my wings a little bit more than just to try and work for my cousin.

Um, but I, I love the smell of gasoline and you know, that was, that was where my dreams were, um, at the time, you know, pre podcasting of course.

Bobby: Pretty podcasting, gasoline to podcasting. Well, well with that, let’s welcome today’s guest. Uh, Bill Mandera is chief executive officer at Mancini Duffy, an innovative full service design firm, specializing in architecture, planning, and interior design. In his time at Mancini Duffy, Bill has transformed the 100 plus year old firm into a tech driven design studio that prioritizes creativity that is super charged through cutting edge technology.

Bill’s professional success is only part of his story though. He’s as he puts it more of a failed musician, a former drummer for a nineties cover band. And today he has four albums on Spotify. We’ll get into all of that today. Welcome to the pod, Bill Mandara.

Bill: there, I wish somebody told me it was hat day I could not look at my receding hairline on the screen, that would be, that would do wonders for my self esteem.

Andrew: I don’t know if producer Rob sent, sent the memo around. Uh, it’s great to have you on Bill. And you know, we, we wanted to have a little fun talking about childhood pursuits or younger pursuits and younger days, but we have to ask off the top. Can you tell us a little bit about, about this cover band?

Bill: Sure. I mean, you know, I, I spent most of my early nineties and mid nineties, uh, in a cover band playing drums all throughout New Jersey, Jersey shore, some places in New York, and it was a blast. And I’ll tell you, I, I, in my perfect world, I definitely would have been a drummer, but you know, having parents that didn’t really see the way of that didn’t really work.

So they forced me to go to. wouldn’t force me, but it was highly suggested that going to college and becoming an architect would be a better path. So I kind of did that to placate them and then, um, at some point when, when it wasn’t quite working out, I decided I have to take this thing seriously, but always keep the music in the background as something to do.

Andrew: I got to ask, were you like a cover band for one band in particular, or you just playing a set of a whole bunch of, of, of favorites or how, how did that play out?

Bill: we weren’t, we weren’t a tribute band. I, um, I’m not, I, I’m not good enough to me. I’d be in a rush tribute band and I’m certainly not good enough for that. But,

Bobby: Oh, wow. Yeah.

Bill: but yeah, no, we played, you know, all the stuff you would typically hear in the nineties. We actually, it’s funny. We actually started off playing kind of mix of, you know, classic rock songs and some hard rock songs.

And then when, uh, when late 91, [00:05:00] 92 happened with all those Seattle grunge bands, we switched over very quickly to more of the, uh, stuff that was popular in the day. So I would say whenever, whenever my kids have, uh, lithium on, on Sirius XM or something, I’m like, yep, played it, played it, played it, played it, played it, played it, played it, played it.

Andrew: the professor, the high school teacher who got me into the world of media and communications was Keith Richards in a band called Voodoo Lounge. That was a Rolling Stones, uh, tribute. So, you know, I was, I was shaped by, by tribute and cover bands from an early age that way too. So I love that.

Bill: Yeah, I could never do the costumes either, you know. It was, uh, I can’t imagine having to dress up like, you know, Peter Criss every day or something. As much as KISS songs were fun to play.

Bobby: Well, you said it was strongly suggested to you that you go to college and then Bill, you mentioned that design was, was kind of the route you took or architecture. So how did you make your way, um, or at what point did you decide that that would be the, the degree you ultimately pursued?

Bill: Probably when I was like ten years old. Um, my dad was a contractor. Grandfather was a contractor. Great grandfather. came over here on a boat from Sicily, was a laborer, um, so it was pretty much predetermined in the stars that this was the industry into which I would fall in. And it was, um, you know, both my grandfather and my father thought it was important that if I do Take part in this industry.

I carved my own path outside of what they had done and we more into the architectural design part of it rather than the contractor part of it. So from early days, going to work with my dad and my grandfather and. Kind of hanging out in the trailer and taking some tracing paper and redrawing elevations or floor plans of what it was.

It was kind of, really wasn’t, I don’t know, it really wasn’t something that I thought about. It was just kind of like, oh, this is what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna be an architect and, you know, or at least I’ll do that, like I said, to kind of placate everybody while I had these bizarre dreams of playing drums for Smashing Pumpkins or something like that.

Ha ha ha

Bobby: My, my, my father was a general contractor and he’s still proud of me when I can hang a painting that’s level. So, uh, so we definitely went in different, different directions. Um, so, so now you’re at Mancini Duffy and it’s one of the 75 biggest firms in the world. You’re sitting there as CEO. So how’d you wind up in that seat?

Cause that’s a, uh, quite the journey. Um, then if you look at the last, you know, 25 years or so, 30 years.

Bill: It sure is, and it’s, it’s definitely, I would say I was one of the least likely people to be in this seat when I first came to Mancini. I, um, I had worked at a small firm in Jersey for about 12 years, and when I left there, I left to open an office in New Jersey for a New York City firm, which, which went well, and it was all good until 2009 happened and the industry kind of exploded.

In a bad way imploded. And ultimately that firm was acquired by Mancini Duffy. And I was a little ornery at the time about it. And, you know, in 2000, early two thousands, mid two thousands, when, when we, my wife and I had our first kid and then our second kid and had a house and all these bills, it was clear that my salary wasn’t going to cut it for all the things that needed to, uh, to happen.

And, you know, the, the job my wife had, they weren’t, it was, Well, my oldest son is 21 years old. So it was 21 years ago and they weren’t as progressive as firms are now, as far as working moms and, and, you know, the things that we should be doing for them. So it was kind of

Andrew: hmm.

Bill: you’re staying home. And my wife is scrappy as can be.

She was doing a bunch of. different odd jobs and working the whole time, but we needed more income. So I started doing a lot of freelance work over the years. And by the time I got here to Mancini Duffy, I was doing a tremendous amount of freelance work, which was probably, you know, coming into equal to, if not more than what I was making in my, my job.

So I was kind of pretty determined that. It was about time to ditch working for somebody and just do my own thing. Um, and I was doing a menagerie of different types of jobs, everything from, you know, every Saturday morning, I’d hop in my car and go somewhere and. Measure a bunch of units on a roof in Brooklyn or something they needed to replace to Apartments to this that and the other thing and it was well You know Maybe I can do this and sit in my sweatpants and not have to answer to anybody so that was the plan until I met my business partner Christian who was brought in here by Ralph Mancini to actually endeavor a Ownership transition of the firm and him and I became friends quite quickly.

He laid out the plan because we’re Discovered also pretty quickly. We were very like minded. He laid out the plan to me and I said, well, that sounds pretty interesting, too. Here we are. But I would tell you when I first came to Man City, I was, I wasn’t the happiest camper and I probably wasn’t, you know, wasn’t as, uh, open minded about being here [00:10:00] as I was, because I didn’t want to work in the city, didn’t want to work for a larger company, you name it.

Bobby: When you arrived at Mancini Duffy, I think, you know, we had chatted before that you knew you had to change a few things. You’re not a suit and tie guy, if we’re to appropriate that or paraphrase you, Bill. So what did you learn or maybe need to unlearn from previous managers that you’ve applied at Mancini Duffy?

And I know creativity is a big kind of focus of the way in which you’ve approached the firm.

Bill: It is. Um, and for sure to say I’m not a suit and tie guy is not an understatement, is an understatement. Um, you know, there’s, there’s a lot of things I’ve learned throughout my career from people. You know, I’ve learned a lot of. I’ve spent a lot of time on the, on the end of, of, of leaders, and I understand what I, there’s a lot of things I like, a lot of things I don’t like, and I really try to look at the things I don’t like as far as an employee, and make sure I don’t repeat those things.

Uh, it’s very easy as, as, as a leader, as somebody in a position that’s somewhat of power in the firm to say, well, I had to deal with this. So, so do you. Um, you know, a lot of us of a certain vintage came up at a time where there was roaming ogres in the workplace that, you know, we all learned a lot from, but it wasn’t the most pleasant experience.

So we don’t, we don’t want to do that, you know, to say architecture is an industry. Full of a lot of large egos is also an understatement. So I thought it was really important to put my own ego aside and make sure that everybody that’s doing work does get ample credit for it. And I think, um, those are some things that go a long way.

And, you know, that wasn’t really what I experienced when I came to Mancini with the existing ownership, but it was a lot of what I experienced in my career. So, so, you know, we, we knew we wanted to, Diversify the firm, change it to a place that was fun to go to work for everybody, not just people that were into high design of corporate interior spaces.

And, and make it again, just overall make it a place people really want it to be.

Andrew: Love that the people focus in all of this and you know, obviously talent is just an increasingly prescient conversation in industry, but what are some of the, without giving away too much of your secret sauce, of course, some of the characteristics that you’re looking for, for someone who did help you to build that culture?

Bill: Sure. I mean, listen, we’re interested first and foremost, we’re interested. in people that are themselves. You know, if you show up here in a dressed in black with those silly little round glasses, uh, you’re probably going to have a nice polite interview and not be called back. Um, unless that’s who you really are.

In which case, I don’t know, I don’t know that that’s going to fit in, but you know, listen, we want people for lack of a better term that are cool. You know what I mean? And when I say cool, I don’t mean, you know, Like the FONs, cool, I mean, that are, you know, that are themselves and are easy to be around and, and, and want to learn and are receptive to taking direction as well as receptive to sharing their own ideas, um, sharing their own thoughts on what they might want to do.

We have so many things we’ve done here. So many things we’ve accomplished, whether it’s business units, different practice areas, um, that are all the result of people stepping up and saying, Hey, I have an idea. And knowing that. leadership is receptive to that and wants to hear it and we want to give people the opportunity to realize those ideas.

Bobby: You referenced, Bill, folks may be manifesting different departments at the firm based on their interests. Can you talk about the diversity and backgrounds that you now have working at the firm that have resulted from you kind of leaning into this idea of folks owning their creativity, being who they are, and maybe just you being able to hire people who aren’t maybe like the traditional folks you’d see at a firm of your size.

Bill: Sure, um, I can give a couple examples. We have one woman who’s been here her entire career who worked on a high school. We, um, We were fortunate enough to do a technology building for a prominent Catholic high school in Long Island and she decided she really wanted, she really enjoyed that line of work and wanted to explore that and through her efforts we have a whole portfolio now of schools and education that we work on and and we do that on a regular basis.

Um, throughout we have a gentleman who was kind of given the job as an airport lounge by somebody. He took it, kicked ass on it, and then was like, you know, I really like this work. I want to establish an aviation practice. And now, I don’t even know how many years later, at least seven or eight years later, we have a full aviation practice.

We, we, we work in every major airport in, you know, within a five state area here in New York City, as well as all over the country, doing lounges, back of house. Um, and you know, that, that person’s goal is to do a terminal. Which, you know, some people would kind of laugh at, like, Oh, you just did a lounge, how are you going to do a terminal?

But, we’re like, let’s do it, let’s, and let’s put the resources in there, whether it’s [00:15:00] making sure we have the proper staff that has the experience and credentials to get that work, or, you know. Making sure that we’re out there seeking those relationships and because of that I’m eternally grateful because we that’s that’s one of the Practice areas we have that did not exist prior to

Andrew: What about when people come over from other firms and you have people join, like what is the experience that you’d hope for them to have? Or how would you like for them to describe, uh, you know, the, the contrast between, you know, your firm and where they came from? Mm

Bill: listen in a perfect world They’d come to our firm and say wow This is a great place to be and firm I just left was a great place to be because I’d really like it if Um, you know, overall our profession was, was different, um, but that’s not the real world. So, you know, I, I hope that when people come here, they feel that this is home.

This is a place where they can be their authentic self. They can do the work they want to do and they feel like they’re able to give their best efforts and it’s appreciated.

Bobby: Do you have individuals who will feel that the work environment is starkly different from where they came from, or is that not the case, once somebody has been at Mancini Duffy for some time after getting through that interview process?

Bill: I think we do. We have a lot of people that come here and, you know, especially if somebody comes from a larger, um, more corporate. Minded firm, you know, listen, there’s certain things that those corporate minded firms do well, and we have to do as well because it’s all at the end of the day, it’s, you know, it’s, we’re doing real work, but again, I think the overall, what, what, what I really would like them to experience is that.

It is a different mentality.

Bobby: Mm hmm.

Bill: Um, as one example, we’re here to listen to our clients and do what’s best for them. You know, it’s not about necessarily pushing forth my name or any of my partners name. It’s about, you know, You doing good work and taking ownership of it.

Um, those are some things I hope are different and again, we like to have fun. I’m not saying other firms don’t have fun, but you know, we do monthly town halls. My son asked me the other day and I was trying to figure out what our yearly budget on how much we spend on high noons is and it was embarrassing.

But, um,

Andrew: I got a fun, free idea for you, uh, corporate hat day might really, right, really take off.

Bill: I think I have a New York Jets hat somewhere stuffed in my locker over here.

Andrew: There you go. So what we’re going to get into the tech side with a little bit more detail, cause we love to talk about that on, on the pod in particular, but obviously you’re doing things a little bit differently. You bring technology into your process when it comes to that talent. Is there a training process that you bring them into?

Is there a learning curve? Like what’s it like when you bring people in fresh, fresh And want to get them, you know, brought up to speed in the way that you guys do things. Uh, Mancini

Bill: Yeah, sure, so you know, our entire process that we do is different, I hope, than most other firms. It’s an immersive process. You know, when it comes to software, I feel that a lot of the younger folks coming out of school, have an edge up because they’re teaching a lot of these things, whether it’s, you know, video game software and engines and all those things.

Um, everything we do is Revit based. We have, you know, one of our principals here developed an entire new intranet that’s been rolled out recently, which is fantastic. And then there’s dozens of very thoughtful training videos on there. We have sessions once a month where some of our, our people that are more tech oriented host over a lunch.

They give all tips and tricks for it, but overall it’s, you know, it’s learning and adapting to a little bit different of a process. And again, if you have an idea and you think this is the way it’s working, but you know, maybe we could try this, we want to hear it. It’s not, you know, we’re not trying to force people into boxes.

Bobby: I do think that’s really thoughtful. Onboarding is not easy, especially when you’re, when you’re dealing with folks who are coming out of school and might not have spent a ton of time in person. You know, there’s a lot of individuals who will take a lot of classes remote and clearly you’ve invested in, you’re continuing to invest in a really rigorous program, so folks feel as though they’re able to hit the ground running.

There’s probably a self serve nature to it, but you don’t feel as though you’re kind of spinning wheels as a new employee, trying to figure out where you fit in. But you’re really getting indoctrinated in a good way into the Mancini Duffy family.

Bill: Agreed. I mean, I can go by my own experience. When I graduated college, You know, there was, there was, wow, I thought I knew some stuff. It was most, I really didn’t know more than, you know, more than probably like two thirds of what I needed to know. And I was fortunate enough to have some, some, uh, people who were still friends to mentor me and really just kind of sit me down and show me how to do things.

In the real world, and we try to do that as well, you know, it’s, you want to make sure that it’s not necessarily me, it can be me, but everybody in the office, it’s all of our responsibility to help develop people. You know, some of our [00:20:00]best folks that we have worked here as interns throughout college, and that’s kind of the dream because when they, when they do graduate, they understand most of the processes we have here and the way we work, and they can slide right in and be productive.

I mean, I could tell you, I don’t even know how productive I was the first year of my career. Probably not very, um,

Bobby: Right. And you understand them too, which is a huge benefit, less of an unknown.

Bill: For me at least, it’s all about, you know, taking those things and not repeating them just because, like, I had to go through that.

Bobby: Right. So your journey with, with tech, I’m sure it didn’t begin here, but a seminal moment at Mancini Duffy was the design lab that you began seven or eight years ago. So how did that vision get started and what did design lab look like when you first launched it?

Bill: Yeah, for sure. So, I mean, lest anybody give me credit for it, don’t. There’s a gentleman here, Michael Kipfer, who’s actually become, you know, he’s become a friend over the years as well, but, he came to Christian and me one day, Christian’s my partner, and had this idea. He said, I want to start using me. VR technology.

I want to start looking into initiatives like 3D printing and all these different things. And we said, okay, cool. And he’s like, Hey, I want to kick somebody out of an office and put everything in that room. And we said, sure. Um, no problem. So we kind of had, you know, it started off as this weird little room where, you know, people were walking around with those cardboard box glasses on their head.

And, you know, before you know it, I was able to take, take that and show a client that I was trying to convince not to make a lobby, a two story lobby, because it would have felt like a Kellogg’s cereal box. Um, and he gave me this thing and I was able to give him these glasses and the guy put it on and he goes, Oh damn, you’re right.

This doesn’t feel good. Don’t do that. And it was like, for me, I was like, wow, we just. Solved hours and hours of conversations and trying to show things in renderings with this and that was a very basic Um render sphere of something that was done then and so from then You know, we call him kip. He he brought in people who know that are software developers Uh, he came to me He wanted to take over instead of that office take over a conference room in our old office And we said sure and we gave him a budget and built it out to specifications with All sorts of cool stuff.

Um, and again, develop the software and then the software helped develop our process. So ultimately to where we are now in our office, where we moved in two years ago, where our design lab is literally, it’s the centerpiece of our office. It’s where the majority of our client meetings, whether they’re design meetings, presentations, or, or a lot of our internal work take place.

We like to bring people into the process rather than sit there and, you know, in, in my career. Unfortunately, I could name too many times when I’ve showed clients a set of drawings, showed them a few renderings. You know, the people that made the renderings, you either send them somewhere or you have a kid who can make these renderings, and they look perfect, right?

It’s, um, the exact amount of things that are in there, and sometimes maybe you fudge a little things in these renderings because they look good and they kick ass. Um, and then the project’s built and somebody’s like, Wow, this isn’t really what I thought it was going to be.

Andrew: Right.

Bill: know, uh, you go into an interior space and somebody’s like, Oh, I didn’t know that’s what it was.

And you’re like, dude, you looked at the drawing. You saw it, which is neglecting the fact that they don’t look at drawings every day. It’s not, you know, it’s not that they’re not very smart people, but it’s not what they do. They don’t look at drawings. So what we do now is we’ve stripped all that away and we bring people into the process.

We bring them into VR. We bring them into AR now, which is fantastic. We do all our presentations also, you know, big video screen so you’re walking through the space and you can experience the space. Um, and that’s from day one. Day one we, we have a whitewash model that you can walk through and experience and you can feel what it looks like.

You can feel how it, how it is as we add finishes. You can feel it, look at it, and it’s great because a person who doesn’t know how to read a reflected ceiling plane can just look up and be like, oh that’s how the ceiling looks, I don’t like that. Move it and because of the, software we, not me, the, the smart folks that work here created and it’s now actually patented, we can make changes on the fly.

We can say, okay, I don’t like the way this feels, I’m going to move it over here. This feels good. How wide is it? And they have a tool that they can measure in there. Um, it’s very powerful and it, it, it, it strips away a lot of the pretense of what we do and invites people in the process.

Andrew: So kind of throughout that you alluded to the interplay between the technology and the overall, you know, client service processes that you guys have in place. Can you talk about what sounds like a healthy tension between those two things? Like, how are you kind of determining what needs to be built next versus how much is just sort of straight innovation that’s saying, Oh, we could do this differently.

Now that we have this, this piece kind of along the lines of what you described with the original cardboard [00:25:00] BRS.

Bill: An example of how it can develop, I think, is During COVID, we were using this software, and we’d bring everybody in the office. And we would come in, you would experience it, it was great. Um, our folks came up with what’s ostensibly what we call a two player version of it, where you don’t have to be, you can put goggles on if you have them at home, but you can run through on your laptop remotely, like you’re playing Call of Duty or something like that.

And you can experience the space, you can go in there, you can leave notes, you can mark things up. music ends We were working with a client that was in Europe and they would go through, mark things up in the middle of the night, New York time. And we’d come back and we’d see the notes and we’d go, Oh, okay.

And we’d move them around. So that’s, you know, some of the ways in which we’re adapt, able to adapt to it. And then as the technology changes, what we now have is the AR version of it, where we, In a lot of cases we go to the site and you can load the existing space into AR and you can switch on and off what it’s going to look like versus what it is now.

And you can walk through and you can feel if it’s a restaurant what the customer experience is to walk from the, the entry to, to a seat, what it feels, you know, how close you are to somebody else. And you can actually look out and you can, you can feel it. Cause you’re, you know, there’s a difference when you’re walking and you’re, you’re transporting yourself in a box in VR to different places to actually walking the space and feeling it.

So those are, you know, those are a couple of advancements that just happen. As a combination of things that are available and things that are just making the experience better. Um, you know, because it’s our own software, because we have control over that, we’re able to adapt pretty easily. We’re doing a vehicle maintenance facility for a client and they asked if they could drive the vehicles through there.

And I. Obviously, I said yes, and I came back and, you know, I told the guys, here’s my Amex, go buy a steering wheel and some stuff and figure it out, figure it out. And sure enough, they were able to figure it out, and we’re able to provide that experience for them. And honestly, it’s valuable because there’s things you see as, as you’re driving through there, you see, oh wait, I don’t really know where to go.

Let’s put some signage over there. A lot better to happen in a virtual model than somebody going through a place that’s done when everybody got paid and having to then go back in and fix it.

Bobby: I’m sure clients were probably, maybe not overwhelmed, but we’re trying to figure out this technology piece earlier on. We, we’ve had conversations with a lot of guests who have said, you know, getting a client to put on goggles can be a challenge. Where are you with your clients in that spectrum right now?

Do they get excited for the technology? Do you sometimes need to coax them to embrace the technology? Are you at the point now where working with Mancini Duffy and getting access to your technology is a big selling point and people want to dive right in?

Bill: It absolutely is a selling point for us. Um, a lot of times I have people ask me, Oh, what’s the charge for that? And the answer is it’s not because that’s what we do. It’s our process. I would say there really is no coaxing for us early on, you know, when, when it was kind of these clunky things like the goggles that made you feel like you just got off, you know, a roller coaster and you’re not feeling so hot.

It was a little bit different, but the way The software has evolved and the way our folks have made it so it’s, you know, there’s a lot of things that have to happen with frame rates and all that stuff so you don’t feel a little seasick afterwards, but there’s no convincing people love it. I would argue that and the tech, not the way our technology works.

And the programs, it’s super easy to use. It’s basically, you have a trigger, you know, it’s called tool belt because you look down and there’s these various tools you click and it’s, it’s deliberately means easy to use. I don’t want to say simple cause that has a negative connotation, but it’s easy to use and it’s user friendly.

Um, so there’s really. There’s really no hesitancy I’ve seen on our clients in forever to use it just because again, it’s easy. Everybody understands walking, you know, every, for the most part now I grew up playing video games, right? Everybody understands walking through a scenario on a screen and what that looks like.

And it’s a heck of a lot easier to understand what a space is like that than rifling through sets of drawings and, and various renderings that at the end of the day, aren’t always real. I mean, It’s not, shouldn’t be a secret that you want your rendering to look really, really great. So you’re not going to put some things that are kind of gnarly in there, right?

You’re not, and if you’re doing a rendering and there’s a, uh, a strobe in the middle of a wall, you’re just going to show that stroke because the majority of our consultants are also working at Revit. We put all those things in there. So you’re walking through, you’re going to be like, Oh crap, there’s a strobe there.

Let’s, uh, Hey, uh, MEP guy can’t have a strobe there. Let’s move it. So it also keeps people honest and. Again, I think everybody appreciates that.

Andrew: How much is that transparency? And I mean, I’m sure there’s a narrative around cost savings as well. That comes through these processes. Like how much is that part of what you lead with [00:30:00] as your story as a firm versus something that, you know, people just kind of get, get as a part of the package that you’d said, but previously

Bill: No, I mean, obviously we lead with that a lot. It was one of the, you know, it’s something I believe that sets us apart from, from others, not that other firms aren’t, you know, investing in technology coming, coming up with things. But I think the way that we’ve combined, I’ve always seen VR technology.

Especially used kind of as the, you know, the big ending to the story, right? Okay, we’ve walked you through the drawings and now put this on and walk around and look at how great it is. And you’re in a static environment, which is cool, but having it as part of the process, which we do is, It’s better for everybody.

And there is a savings, and I wouldn’t say cost savings, because, you know, we don’t, that doesn’t, doesn’t really tend to happen too much, but, and it’s, it’s a better, um, direction of people’s efforts. So I would rather somebody spending the effort in designing the space, uh, making sure things are thoughtfully done, than going into InDesign and spellchecking everything to make sure that, you know, Somebody didn’t put I before E, except that, you know, or something like that.

Um, I think it’s, you know, and, you know, architects aren’t that great at spelling or grammar either, so I think it’s a better, um, use of people’s time and energy to focus on that.

Bobby: think before we We move on from technology, Bill. We do want to get a sense of what your take is on AI, um, or maybe how Mancini Duffy is either leveraging AI, or if you have ways in which AI has been integrated into the practice, or if there’s just a general philosophy at the firm as it relates to artificial intelligence.

Bill: Sure. I mean, my personal feelings as somebody who grew up, grew up watching movies like The Terminator and The Matrix, it scares the crap out of me. Um, just watched The Terminator the other night with my son, I was like, oh man, Skynet. Um, but, but, you know, listen, it’s a tool, it has its place. It should never replace the creative spirit of people, but it is a tool that can be used to iterate quickly.

And, and efficiently where, you know, it’s, we’ll take people hours and hours and hours to do things. So we, we, we definitely use it as a tool to iterate. Um, but it, to me, the second somebody uses it to replace a person or, or, or anything creative, whether, and by the way, it extends past architecture into anything, into music, into writing.

Um, I think that’s when you start to really kind of lose the soul of who we are. And um, you know, it’s, so I, I guess to summarize, I’m a little disjointed here, but, um, I Because my personal feelings on it, but it does, it does have a place and it when used properly as a tool, um, just like anything else, you know, people would say that when I first started in my career, um, all the more veteran architects would look at me like, ah, you kids with your AutoCAD and you’re playing games over there.

What are you doing? And, and like, I was like, you know, I would, I still maintain, I would crush people in AutoCAD cause I’m pretty good at it, but you know, now it appeared to me like 10. Maybe 10 years ago, I was like, wow, when, when BIM came out, it’s like, now I’m like the old guy over here yelling at clouds.

Like, ah, you can, uh, AutoCAD’s where it’s at, and there’s always something else that’s gonna come, and it’s, they’re all tools. And as long as they’re used thoughtfully, you know, like, to the point, like, all the old people thought, Oh, you don’t know how to draw stuff because the computer’s drawing it for you.

And that’s not really what was happening. It was just the old guy take on it. So all of these things are tools.

Bobby: You mentioned, uh, Christian Giordano, your partner a couple times, Bill, who also has a fantastic podcast, The Anti Architect. And a lot has changed since you and Christian took over the firm. We’ve talked about people, we’ve talked about creativity, we’ve talked about technology. Um, so from the time that, um, that transition happened, uh, where you and Christian became co owners, you became CEO, has the client profile changed as a result of all of the, you know, the inner workings, changings that you.

and Christian have implemented at the firm.

Bill: Absolutely. It was and it was deliberate. We wanted to make sure that we had a diversity of practice. I was, you know, I mentioned previously I was at a firm in 2009 whose core business was interiors for Corporate financial clients and, um, you know, that didn’t go so well in 2009 and then following 2010.

So it’s good to have a lot of different business units that we do. So, I mean, you know, we, and we’ve intentionally done that, you know, Mancini Duffy was known as, as a corporate interiors [00:35:00] firm. Um, my background in particular is being. More on the base building side, um, and more with a wider breadth of project types, whether it’s industrial, um, retail, all those different things.

So we, you know, we already had things that we did. We already had things that the firm’s history allowed us to do. So we were able to bring in different, um, Um, you know, different types of work early on, and then there’s some things that more strategically we did where we acquired a firm two years ago that had a very robust multifamily residential practice as well as a health care practice.

And again, combining that with what we do. We’re able to grow that, and now we have, you know, those are two different practices that are doing quite well. Uh, two years ago I was able to, um, through a friend, meet somebody who had been at the same firm for 20 years, who’s a life sciences and labs expert, and as it so happened, he was looking for a new home.

be able to bring him in here and again, combine it with his experience. And now we have, we have a, we, we have a life sciences practice. We’re, we’re a real player in that. Um, and then, like I mentioned previously, folks kind of doing things on their own and coming up with, you know, I wanna do this. We have an aviation practice, we have an education practice.

Um, in addition, you know, so we, we still do corporate interiors, but now we. We do soundstages, we do, my biggest project I ever worked on, TSX Broadway, was like, you know, that’s just kind of a crazy project with everything, a lot of different things in it, but, you know, we, we have a ton of restaurants we do here.

It was funny, I think we probably did, Maybe 10 restaurants before COVID. And then, um, since then, we have so many clients of restaurants we’re doing, rolling them out across the country, various restaurants, helping them develop concepts. Um, everything from, you know, suburban restaurants where you might go on a, you know, to watch, watch your favorite team on Monday Night Football, to super high end Michelin star chefs in the city, so.

That’s been the thing we’ve been doing, which is great. So, and it’s, it’s really good. It’s important to me, and it was important to Christian as well, to have that diversity of practice, just because you never know what’s going to happen. Um, you never know when you’re going to wake up and, you know, it seems like every day something horrible is on the news, but you never know when you’re going to wake up and some, the bottom’s going to fall out of something.

So at the very least, it’s good to have, um, other business units that if one thing falls through the other things can help pick up the slack.

Andrew: tied a nice bow back to your, your cover band story off the top about. Learning the grunge songs to keep the band as relevant as possible. So the diversification theme is great.

Bill: Well, if some of my former bandmates listen to this, they wouldn’t agree, because I As much as I, I did love the grunge stuff, but they would always want to throw stuff out. Anytime somebody would put a song that I didn’t like, whether it’s a country music, I’d be like, Absolutely not, I’m not doing that. So they probably wouldn’t, they probably wouldn’t agree with that.

But yeah, fair point.

Bobby: You did reference it really quickly. If you could just talk about how the whole ecosystem comes together in a project like TSX Broadway, just a massive, you know, win for, uh, for y’all.

Bill: Yeah, wow. I mean, that was a heck of a project. Um, you know, the team was staggering. I mean, we had so many people on the work here on that project. Justin Mancini, let alone all the other guys. I give a lot of credit to the client, the developer who really established a different mindset for that. They leased a field office a block and a half away from the project and insisted that everybody working on a project have representation in that office.

So we had at any point, some point in time, we had 10, 12 people working in that office, which is different for a project. And, um, Again, I could talk for hours on that project, but it was such a complicated project with so many moving parts and so many different people having everybody there and not able, you know, not being able to shoot off a snarky email to somebody because you’re sitting.

across from you and just having the conversation, which is something I think is lacking in general today in business, in business overall, uh, really made a big difference. Cause it’s easy to sit here and say, Oh, you know, do this, do that. And then it’s another thing to look the person in the face and say, and it really, um, facilitated an environment.

of collaboration where people did work together, where they may not have worked together differently. So I mean, again, we had so many people here that worked on it. Um, I, I, I, I, out of all of them, I probably contributed the least. Um, so I’m grateful to all of them for doing it and grateful for the client for having, showing the faith in us to get that project done because it’s not like anybody out there really had that in their back pocket say, Oh, sure.

I lifted a theater and built a stage and a hotel on top of it. It’s not like, you know, anybody really could say that they did that. So there was a certain amount of faith that the client had in us, which I’m forever grateful

Bobby: Yeah. Very cool. Congrats on that bill.

Bill: for. Thank you.

Bobby: We do each episode. Always love to turn the mic over to our [00:40:00]guests for a plug section. Bill, if you have anything that you’d like to promote going on in your life, where folks can find you on Spotify or anything, uh, in the professional realm that you’d like to promote, um, going on at Mancy Me Duffy.

Bill: So, I, anybody ever wants to, I’d say visit our website. There’s direction on there for, for whom to speak to about careers here. If you’d like interested in working here or, uh, you know, our marketing team.

So, yeah, listen, we’re always looking to grow and make new relationships. Uh, personally, yeah, I, I just. You know, having spent so many times, so much time in cover bands and, uh, having, you know, arguments with people and, and I, during COVID, I figured out how to record, I spent a lot of time learning how to use Logic Pro and a lot of time making some really awful sounding recordings, um, which I’m listened to.

And I was in the, some of the first ones and I cringed. Um, but I’ve learned how to record pretty. pretty well in my own house. I do play every instrument and I record a bunch of albums. And if you just type my name into Spotify, you’ll see him there. My, sometimes my, uh, I have friends that will help out people that I played with in bands over the years.

My son, my 21 year old son, Joey, he’ll sing on a bunch of songs for me, which is always great. Um, he’s super talented himself. So yeah, if you just, uh, just released my fourth album, I’m pretty proud of it. I actually took a an effort into the songwriting on this one than previous ones and really learned from a lot of those mistakes.

So,

Andrew: It’s one of the first times I’ve heard a story of someone who’s wanted to learn something during COVID and actually followed through on it. Like everyone was super motivated in the first two months of COVID. I’m really going to learn how to, I still have a ukulele somewhere.

Bill: well, in, in, in a plot twist, I actually learned, made my own sourdough starter and learned how to make sourdough bread like last year after COVID. So I kind of was late to the game on that. It tastes great. I made a few loaves for dinner last night for Mother’s Day for my beautiful wife.

Andrew: That’s a definite COVID classic. The other thing we love to do is just to give our guests a chance to provide any advice or resources that you’d share with a listener, a young person out there, someone who’s looking to, you know, figure out their path, um, in the world of architecture and design. Build the innovation muscle that you guys have brought so successfully to Mancini Duffy.

So is there anything out there that, um, that you would share as a resource or something that people look at, or just a piece of advice?

Bill: I mean, I guess I would give the same advice that my mother always gave me. Everything happens for a reason, you know. There’s challenges in life, um, there’s things that get put before you that, you know, aren’t so great. Um, there’s things that get before, before you that are great and everything’s an opportunity and everything’s, whether it’s an opportunity to learn or opportunity to grow or opportunity to develop yourself or your career.

Um, I would tell you when, when my company Sol was acquired by Mancini Duffy, I was pissed. I was not happy and there was no dig at Mancini Duffy. I just like, I don’t want to work at a large firm. I don’t want to do this. Um, and here we are all these years later, it was one of the greatest opportunities ever presented to me.

And like I I found out about it while tailgating in a Jets game in the parking lot. I was not happy. So, you know, every, everything is an opportunity and should be looked at like that.

Bobby: Nothing good happens,

Andrew: At a Jets game at a Jets,

Bill: Well, I’d love to argue with you.

Bobby: I’m a Jet Season ticket holder, Bill, so.

Bill: Oh, well, hit me up if you ever want to tailgate. We have a pretty good setup. Me and my son.

Bobby: There you go. Rob, uh, what did you learn today?

Rob: I learned that not all offices are made equal in a very positive way. And I like that, you know, a lot of the things that have been going on over the eras have been evolving and changing and in a way that feels fun and innovative. I really love the idea of using AR and VR instead of just like, look at this mock up I’ve put together, right?

Like people can actually feel like they’re in the zone and that is incredible And I put on a hat for today’s recording just so

Andrew: which is amazing hat day. Well, Bill, thanks so much for joining us today. It’s great. Um, just hearing all the backstory and, um, you know, uh, having a really interesting creative conversation that’s emerged and evolved over so many years. I definitely take away this idea that, you know, you can be really successful in business without having to be a buttoned up business, you know, Guy, you can definitely succeed being people first and putting people first.

And then obviously the way that you keep the creative soul throughout all of that as well as, you know, sometimes counterintuitive to people who are thinking about what it means to be a part of, of a large organization.

Bill: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure talking to you guys. Appreciate it.

Andrew: It’s also always a pleasure to work with the Barriers to Entry production team. So we like to, as always extend a big thank you to them, our producer, Rob Schulte, fellow [00:45:00] member of Hat Day, and everyone else back at the studio by Sandow in the pod cave. Barriers to Entry is a part of the Surround podcast network.

Make sure you go to surroundpodcasts. com. That’s podcasts with an S. Smash the follow button and then join us next time as we continue to

Andrew: reference Skynet

Bill: Oh, well, there you go. I, uh, don’t, don’t sue me, James Cameron.

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Andrew Lane

Andrew Lane is Co-founder of digby, co-founder of Interior Design Magazine’s (MAD) Awards and co-host of the podcast Barriers to Entry.

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Bobby Bonett

Bobby Bonett is Chief Growth Officer and EVP Strategy at SANDOW DESIGN GROUP and co-host of the podcast Barriers to Entry.

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